Posted 8th February 2013
For those who are avid tweeters, the name Mohammed Ansar will be familiar. A “Muslim political & social commentator”, Ansar has made quite a name for himself. Regularly making appreances on BBC television and radio stations, Mohammed comes on air to gives his opinions.
Ansar’s profile reads thus: “An adviser on strategic communications, organisational development and engagement, Mohammed continues to focus on equalities, interfaith, financial exclusion and child poverty. Outside of his work, Mohammed is an ECB qualified cricket coach and a passionate advocate of the women’s game, coaching his local u15 and u13 girls’ teams.”
His credentials seem impressive on the face of it – anyone who does work in their community and tries to promote dialogue should be encouraged and praised. But his profile, in general, is rather vague, not quite informing people what his day job is or what his education qualifications are. Just what does he mean by ‘political and social commentator’? He also claims to be a regular commentator on BBC Asian Network yet his last appearance on the radio was in 2011 debating against Anjem Choudary.
A growing number of people are expressing discontent with Mo Ansar. Not necessarily on his views as such, but a refusal to engage in dialogue without being either blocked or accused of being “Islamophobic”.
Someone once posted on Twitter, “@MoAnsar is like the Candyman of Twitter, you Tweet his name 3 times and the Police turn up.” In fact, Ansar’s tendency to refuse to engage in dialogue at times, or block people, has resulted in a rather amusing Twitter account, ‘Mo Ansar Blocked Me’.
One a BBC Radio discussion, speaking of the ‘rise in Islamophobia’, Ansar said: “The police won’t take reports on a social networking site like Twitter. What they will ask you to do is gather evidence, go into a police station and make a report.”
Many have had run-ins with him over the past few months, simply for asking him questions. Blocking them on Twitter in understandable (it is his choice with whom he wishes to engage into dialogue), but he has gone as far as reporting certain people to the police, accusing them of being Islamophobic and racist.
Nick Jode, 39, from Cardiff, is one such person, who enjoys engaging in debate with commentators over Twitter, including Ansar, and has expressed a keen interest in learning about Islam.
He said: “I asked Mo Ansar, in his opinion, was AQ [Al Qaeda] responsible for the 7/7 bombings? I never had a reply, and all I was doing was seeing if he was for or against such actions. The only reply I had was from south Wales police saying I had been reported for islamophobia and for being racist of which I am neither; I am not a member of BNP, EDL or NF.”
One man, who was too scared to give his real name, was reported to his employers for similar reasons.
“He knew that if he complained they were obliged to look in to it otherwise could be guilty of corporate islamophobia,” he told me. “They trawled my twitter account and think they got his measure.”
Of course, if someone is being bullied, they have every right to report that person (s) to the authorities. Certainly, Ansar has been subject to some racial abuse in the past, and incidents such as these must be reported and should be acceptable. Some of his complaints, however, have been rather trivial.
I received a phone call at work on afternoon from Ansar, who had found my profile via LinkedIn and a subsequent Google search, he threatened legal action for saying his tweets were “becoming Islamist and depressing”. I told him I would be more than happy to put his complaint before a judge. He quickly backed down and started to lecture me on media law.
In most circumstances, it seems that Ansar himself is displaying behaviour that many have described as bullying. None of the above men are racist or have any anti Islamic sentiments whatsoever. In fact, Muslims themselves have expressed their grievance at him being a face for Muslims. @wearawhiterose tweeted ‘if you were tarnishing any other religion then I wouldn’t care, but as Muslims we bear the impact of your actions’
Mohammed’s profile describes him as a “leading public advocate against Islamophobia” – who gave him this title? Is it self imposed? What makes him qualified to be such a leading authority on such matters?
There is no doubt that some Muslims out there are who suffer abuse because of the religion they choose to practise. But does it help their cause when many things are labelled as “Islamophobic”?
In a media appearance discussing Tom Holland’s documentary, Islam: The Untold Story, Ansar states quite clearly “calling people racists and Islamophobes doesn’t help”, yet he denounces many things as “Islamophobic” or “racist” on a regular basis.
According to his profile, Mohammed claims to be a visiting lecturer on theology. But what are his exact qualifications? They don’t seem to be mentioned anywhere on his website, nor on his LinkedIn profile.
When he gets into debates with Muslims on Twitter, and his point is proven to be invalid or not entirely true, he has responded with claiming to be their “elder and better” – better in terms of knowledge, (his words) yet he admits that he has not memorised the Qur’an and he cannot quote verses from the Qur’an from memory. How can he then claim to have more knowledge or be more of an expert, and be someone’s “better”?
The presenters of the online programme noticed his lack of clarity and noticed that Ansar says one thing, yet the scriptures say another. So either he is incredibly progressive and does not believe in compelling people to believe or worship (his buzz phrase is “there is no compulsion in religion) or he tries to pander to as many people as possible.
Ansar is called upon to discuss religion and science regularly; he recently contributed towards a piece in the New Statesman to talk specifically about Islam and evolution. Apart from the use of lofty words and jargon, it is difficult to know exactly what his views are and what he is trying to say. In fact, he does not seem qualified to talk about evolution, as he does not have a background in science, or Islam, as he is not a scholar (as mentioned above).
Women and the hijab
Ansar’s favourite phrases is “there is no compulsion in faith”, but when asked on his thoughts on the hijab, Ansar has said several times: “The headscarf is 100% obligatory in Islam; every school of thought since the time of the Prophet agrees. One can choose to follow it or not” even though he later said that Islam is not a smorgasbord which sounds quite contradictory, either one is not compelled into following a religion, or one must follow everything and not pick and choose (despite the fact that there are many different Islamic sects).
He then went on to say: “It is as heinous and fascistic to compel a girl or a woman to remove the headscarf as it is to compel her to wear it.”
Let us not delve into the Islam requirements for the headscarf, whether it is mandatory or not, as that is a debate for perhaps another time. But can one not argue that making a nine-year-old girl wear a headscarf is, to use Ansar’s own words, “heinous and fascistic”?
Ansar insists it is up to a woman whether she chooses to wear a hijab or not, but his statements would indicate his preference for them to wear it. In one tweet, he said: “The cultural dehijabisation onslaught is one of the great challenges of our time. Only overcome with piety, love and education.”
A Muslim lady, who does not wear the hijab, said that he told her (not realising she was a Muslim) that not wearing the hijab was ‘not halal’. When he realised she was indeed a Muslim, he ‘back-tracked’. “I got a distinct impression of manipulation,” she told me.
His views on rape and modesty have attracted some controversy. Take the recent issue of the young woman who was brutally gang-raped in India. Ansar’s response seemed dismissive, and has barely dedicated two tweets to the issue, claiming that the media have allowed the incident too much coverage.
But more sinister was his exchange with journalist David Aaronovitch. Talking about shyness and modesty, Ansar stated: “We have rampant pornography and the sexualisation of women and children today; is a return to modesty not well overdue?” Ansar avoided elaborating when pushed by Aaronovitch, but many people have read this as an apology for rape, suggesting that he’s alluding to lack of ‘modesty’ and blaming women’s clothes for rape and harassment.
One can hope that this is not the case, and perhaps there has been a misunderstanding, but piecing all the above statements together, it does not present a pretty picture at all.
Admittedly, Mohammed Ansar can make his point well to an extent and there is a growing need for more Muslims in the media, as there are many who do feel marginalised and want more representation on mainstream television and radio.
The problem lies in the fact that a lot of his points are quite repetitive and vague, and quite often he refuses to engage in dialogue. When he does, the complaint is that he does not address the main points and often blocks users on Twitter or threatens them with legal action. With someone who is in the public eye and in an influential position, he seems unable to handle criticism or dissent at all.
Add to this his constant denouncement of events or statements as “Islamophobic”, which does a huge disservice to Muslims out there, as it takes away from actual events that could be Islamophobic.
Ansar comes across as quite liberal, on the face of it; certainly when he appears on television he speaks pleasantly. However, it looks to many as though Ansar is trying to balance his public image with his actual image, trying to be many things to many people. This is a cause of concern especially is he is to gain any more influence in the media and public domain.